We all know that flying is bad for the environment and a major driver of climate change. What’s more, demand for flights is expected to more than double over the next few decades, making the problem even worse.

But what most of us don’t know is that the majority of flights are taken by a very small and very rich segment of the population. It’s estimated that 70% of the total number of flights are taken by only 15% of the population, while 57% of the population took no flights abroad whatsoever in 2013. Those who do fly are significantly wealthier – for example, the average income for leisure passengers at Edinburgh Airport in 2013 was more than twice the average Scottish income.

Why should we allow a small number of rich people to take advantage of a global environment that belongs to all of us? And why should we assist those flights with fuel duty and VAT exemptions, as we do in the UK? It stands in stark contrast to those in low-earning countries who stand to suffer the worst effects of a changing climate.

The fair solution is obvious: those that fly more should pay more.

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Image credit: araswami via Flickr

The majority shouldn’t have  to subsidise the air miles lifestyle of the elite. That’s why we’re joining forces with the Fellow Travellers campaign in proposing that the current system of Air Passenger Duty, which levies the same small charge regardless of how frequently we fly, should be replaced with a Frequent Flyer Levy. A move to this system would see nothing charged on the first return flight that an individual takes each year, but would see it increase progressively the more flights the individual takes.

By doing this we can help limit the environmental impact from flying in a way that is fair and doesn’t penalise the majority for the actions of an elite. We can have a future in which flying is not reserved for the rich and we don’t have to keep building more runways for the benefit of the few. But to do that we need to correct the injustice in our tax system.

Our report, Managing aviation passenger demand with a Frequent Flyer Levy, forms part of the newly launched Fellow Travellers project. Together we are making the case for replacing the biased system of Air Passenger Duty with a fairer Frequent Flyer Levy. We show how this can both reduce the environmental impact of flying and redistribute flights away from the richest towards the rest of us.